American/British Language Differences: Automotive Edition

It has always struck me as bizarre that, when it comes to cars, there’s an especially-wide swathe of vocabulary differences between British English and American English. After almost thirteen years here in the USA, I feel like I have mastered most of these except for those that are spelled the same but pronounced differently over here, like the brand Jaguar. To me, it will always be Jag-you-are. Never Jag-war.

For those of you intrigued to learn more transatlantic automotive vernacular, here’s a quick checklist:

  • Bonnet: not decorative headwear but rather the British word for ‘hood.’
  • Boot: not footwear, but how we Brits say ‘trunk.’
  • Windscreen: yes, we call it a windscreen not a windshield.
  • Number plate: that’s English for license plate.
  • Manual: you call it ‘stick.’ You’ll find a whole lot more of these in the UK and Europe. In fact, most of us learn to drive manual. This makes us better multi-taskers, IMHO.
  • Hatchback: a three-door car. Again, many more of these across the pond. After all, British streets and parking spots are narrower, so it makes sense.
  • Saloon: not as glamorous as in the wild west, this is what we call a regular four-door car.
  • Estate: Personally I think station wagon cars are all ugly. Also it’s such a silly word.
  • Lorry = Truck
  • Caravan = RV
  • People Mover = Minivan
  • 4×4 = SUV

Things you may have in your car:

  • Anorak: in case it rains. Y’all call it a windbreaker.
  • Wellies: ditto, in case it’s rainy or muddy out. You’d call them rubber boots.
  • Torch: A.K.A a flashlight.

I’ve also discovered some words here in America for which I don’t think there’s a direct British equivalent:

  • Way back: fortunately it means what it says, as in “tell the kids in the way back of the car to stop throwing legos at each other.”
  • Tailgating: Grilling in car parks before sports events is not something Brits really know how to do. Or why.

On the flip side, we Brits do like a good car boot sale. No, this doesn’t mean selling our trunks. It’s like a big old market where everyone parks their car and sets up a booth to sell off second-hand stuff. Like lots of yard sales in a parking lot or a big field.

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